FRANKFORT (AP) — Two women at the center of a sexual harassment scandal told U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes to keep a $250 campaign donation from a former Democratic lawmaker accused of sexually harassing the two women at the state Capitol.
Grimes said Wednesday she would keep the donation after a 30-minute phone conversation with Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner, both aides to House Democratic leaders who say former state Rep. John Arnold touched them inappropriately.
“The fight is not with her. The fight is with men that work in the legislature,” Cooper said in an interview. “Use that money to maybe correct some of the wrongful things that he has done or stand against some of the wrongful things he has done to people.”
The issue quickly became a flashpoint Wednesday in a contentious Senate campaign that has focused largely on the rights of women. More than half of all ballots cast in the 2012 election in Kentucky — 53.8 percent — were by women. And Grimes has made women’s issues a focal point in her effort to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Tuesday, the Legislative Ethics Commission fell one vote shy of fining Arnold. Hours after that vote, Grimes declined to answer questions about the case outside of an event in Lexington. The McConnell campaign quickly pounced, saying if Grimes is “not willing to speak out in a situation as egregious as this, it tells Kentucky women exactly how cheap her words are.”
Wednesday, Grimes released a statement saying she was disappointed with the ethics commission’s decision but that she was “glad that the representative resigned.” The campaign accused McConnell of using the women “as a political football before knowing all of the facts.”
Cooper and Costner, partisan staff members who say they are close friends with Grimes, told The Associated Press they were happy with Grimes’ response.
“She knows us. So, we appreciated her not using us as a political line and advantage by saying, ‘Oh, I know them, they are our friends,’” Costner said. “She is keeping it private and respecting our privacy and keeping us out of her race.”
McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said Cooper and Costner’s comments are not a “permission slip for failing to speak out for women.”
“This isn’t a partisan question, this is a question about whether someone lacks the courage to speak out against her own party when they’ve clearly allowed an incredible injustice to move forward,” Moore said.